April 2001 // Volume 39 // Number 2 // Research in Brief // 2RIB3

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Utah Extension Educators' Perceived Satisfaction with and Needs for Agricultural Health and Safety Information

The reported descriptive study surveyed the perceptions of Utah Extension personnel on their satisfaction with, and need for, agricultural health and safety information for their clients. The data was developed from a self-administered questionnaire mailed to a census of Utah Extension agents and administrators. The results of the survey indicated that Extension's needs for agricultural health and safety information are not being fully met. In addition, the respondents to the survey indicated that the need for information targeting youth was a greater need than information targeting adults. The results also indicated that the agricultural health and safety needs of minorities were much like those of non-minorities, but that an effort should be made to produce information in Spanish.

Jill Webster
Assistant Professor
Internet Address: jillweb@cc.usu.edu

David L. Rogers
Extension Community Development Specialist

Stanley C. Mariger
Graduate Assistant

Utah State University
Logan, Utah


Agriculture is one of most dangerous occupations in the United States. Nationally, an agricultural worker is five times as likely as the average American worker to experience a disabling injury (National Safety Council, 1989). The characteristics of agriculture as an industry magnify associated health and safety hazards through repeated exposure to hazards such as machinery and livestock. These hazards, in turn, impact children on the farm who are exposed to many of the same risks (Egbert, 1992). Agriculturists and others in an agricultural environment are at high risk for mortality and morbidity associated with exposure to animals, machinery, and chemicals.

Educating individuals about the hazards of agriculture should be an obvious response to the high rate of accidents (Egbert, 1992). It is believed that 95% of work-related accidents could have been prevented if proper safety precautions were taken (Jacobs & Turner, 1981). Unfortunately, there appear to be several barriers to delivery of comprehensive agricultural health and safety education programs.

The first of the barriers is the low interest in Utah for agricultural health and safety training programs that target adults. To date, research has not been conducted concerning adults' or minorities' needs for safety materials, although Extension agents have reported some interest in training programs for youth. Concerns about the quality and availability of youth health and safety information in the Utah agricultural community are well founded. Utah youth ages 0-16 experienced 29.8% (n=1,125) of the agricultural injuries requiring treatment in an emergency room (Joerger, Ferguson, & Hendricks, 1999).

Limited resources are a second serious barrier to delivering health and safety information in Utah. Reduced levels of funding for agricultural health and safety issues over the last 20 years have necessitated a decline in agricultural health and safety information dissemination nation-wide (Murphy, 1992).

Finally, the need to address these serious problems leads to an environment of crisis management within the agricultural health and safety community. This, in turn, means a more limited focus on agricultural health and safety research and on education efforts. In spite of the identified need for safety education, many county Extension agents fail to include this type of comprehensive education in their programs as a result of these barriers.

To develop an effective educational program, agricultural researchers and Extension educators should collaborate in developing useful information and identifying the appropriate channels to reach the target audience (Sulaiman, Baggett, & Yoder, 1993).

Purpose / Objectives

The purpose of the study reported here was to determine the beliefs and perceptions of Utah Extension educators about agricultural health and safety information needs. The specific objectives of the study were as follows.

  • Describe the quality and availability of agricultural health and safety information for adults and youth.
  • Identify the agricultural health and safety issues most important to Utah agriculturalists in reference to adults, youth, and minorities.
  • Determine in what languages, other than English, agricultural health and safety information should be developed.
  • Determine in what format(s) agricultural health and safety information should be developed and delivered.

Methods / Procedures

The population of respondents for this study consisted of all Utah Extension educators and administrators at the county, regional, and state level. The questionnaire used in the study consisted of five sections: adult safety needs, youth safety needs, minority safety needs, health and safety information formats, and respondent demographics.

The adult and youth sections of the survey consisted of 40 Likert-type items, with a five-point scale that ranged from very satisfactory to very unsatisfactory. The key in the questionnaire defined the scale rankings in the following way:

  • 5 = Very Satisfactory:(Information on this subject more than meets the needs of Utah)
  • 4 = Satisfactory:(Information on this subject meets the needs of Utah)
  • 3 = Adequate:(Information is adequate but there is room for improvement)
  • 2 = Unsatisfactory: (Information on this topic needs major improvement)
  • 1 = Very Unsatisfactory:(This subject is totally lacking in quality or availability)

For each of the 40 items, respondents were asked to rate the item using the scale described above. These items were identical in both the adult and youth sections, with the exception of one item that was age related. Agricultural health and safety topics covered in the items were diverse and developed from a review of relevant literature. Cronbach's alpha was used to determine the reliability of the scale items in the instrument. The reliabilities were .88 for youth and .92 for adults.

Parts one, two, and three of the survey also included an open-ended question that asked respondents to record what they felt were the most important agricultural health and safety issues for adults, youth, and minorities. Part three also included a question about languages other than English in which there was a need to develop and deliver agricultural health and safety information. Part four included a ranking of 11 information media or formats for agricultural health and safety information. Part five was the respondent demographic section.

The questionnaire was sent to all respondents, along with a cover letter explaining the objectives of the study. Each survey packet included a self-addressed return postage envelope. Dillman's procedures were used throughout the survey process. Follow-up was done by mail and telephone at 2-, 4-, 6-, and 8-week intervals after the initial mailing. Thirty-nine of the forty-seven completed surveys were returned, for a response rate of 83%.

Results / Findings

Demographic Profile of Respondents

The demographic data collected from the respondents indicated that the age of the respondents ranged from 31 to 64, with the mean age of 46.8 years. The respondent population consisted of 32 males and 6 females. The primary work assignment of respondents were 64.1% agricultural or agribusiness agents, 12.8% Extension administrators, 10.3% 4H agents, and 7.7% home agents. (The remaining 5.1% failed to report their work assignment.)

Objective 1- Description of Health and Safety Information

Table 1 demonstrates that some of the agricultural health and safety topics have mean scores that were very low when compared to the scale. The topics that the Extension agents indicated as least satisfactory among adults and that therefore may need more attention were zoonosis, mental health, stress management, and repetitive motion injury prevention.

Table 1.
Selected Adult Health and Safety Topics Receiving Low Mean Scores

Agricultural Health & Safety Topic Mean
Zoonosis (diseases passed from animals to man) 2.4571
Mental Health and Stress Management 2.5405
Repetitive Motion Injury Prevention 2.5882
Designing Safe Livestock Facilities 2.6111
Respiratory Hazards and Air Quality 2.6286

Although the agricultural health and safety topics for youth were almost identical to the topics covered in the adult section, the areas perceived as least satisfactory and perhaps needing the most improvement for youth were different than those for adults. The respondents felt that childproofing the farm, confined spaces, and farm vehicle operation were the least satisfactory areas in terms of the information currently available (Table 2).

Table 2.
Selected Youth Health and Safety Topics Receiving Low Mean Scores

Agricultural Health & Safety Topic Mean
Childproofing the Farm 2.2000
Confined Spaces Hazards 2.3714
Farm Vehicle Operation (off road) 2.3714
Zoonosis (diseases passed from animals to man) 2.3824
Silage Equipment Safety 2.4848

While none of the topics in the survey received mean scores very much above adequate, some did have higher mean rankings. Table 3 indicates that respondents rated pesticide handling, pesticide storage, and tractor safety information as most adequate for adults. Table 4 shows that tractor safety, horse handling, and horsemanship information was perceived as being most adequate for youth.

Table 3.
Selected Adult Health and Safety Topics Receiving High Mean Scores

Agricultural Health & Safety Topic Mean
Pesticide Handling 3.2895
Pesticide Storage 3.2162
Tractor Safety 3.1622
Drinking Water Supply Hazards (contamination) 3.0857
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) 3.0526

Table 4.
Selected Youth Health and Safety Topics Receiving High Mean Scores

Agricultural Health & Safety Topic Mean
Tractor Safety 2.9189
Horse Handling Safety 2.9189
Horsemanship and Riding Safety 2.9189
Designing Safe Livestock Facilities 2.7879
All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) Safety 2.7568

Objective 2- Identification of Important Issues

Part of the questionnaire consisted of open-ended responses to the following question: "In the following spaces please write in the specific health and safety issues or topics that are of the greatest importance for farmers, ranchers, and farm workers in Utah. The topic you write in does not have to come from the topics listed above or may be a sub topic of one of the above topics."

Fifty-nine percent (n=23) of the respondents answered the question. Table 5 shows the most frequently reported safety need using the open-ended method was for information on pesticide safety. Farm equipment and all terrain vehicles (ATV) were also important safety needs for adults, followed by livestock, horses, and tractors. Using the same technique, respondents were also asked to list the most important agricultural health and safety issues for youth. The most frequently identified youth agricultural health and safety needs included information on farm equipment, tractors, and pesticides (Table 6).

Table 5.
Frequency of Open Ended Responses About Adult Safety Needs

Agricultural Health & Safety Topic Frequency Mean
Pesticide Handling and Storage 10 43.48%
Farm Equipment Safety 8 34.78%
All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) Safety 5 21.74%
Livestock Handling Safety 4 17.39%
Horse Safety 3 13.04%

Table 6.
Frequency of Open-Ended Responses About Youth Safety Needs

Agricultural Health & Safety Topic Frequency Mean
Farm Equipment Safety 10 50.0%
Pesticide Safety 8 40.0%
Farm Tractor Safety 7 35.0%
All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) Safety 6 30.0%
Animal and Livestock Safety 5 25.0%

In addition, respondents were asked to indicate what they felt were the most important agricultural health and safety issues for non-English speaking individuals in Utah. Eighty percent of the respondents reported that information on various types of farm equipment was most important. Other needs listed were for pesticides (72%), livestock (32%), and safety (Table 7).

Table 7.
Perceived Agricultural Health and Safety Needs of Minorities

Agricultural Health & Safety Topic Frequency Mean
Farm Equipment Operation and Safety 20 80.0%
Pesticides 18 72.0%
Tractor and PTO Safety 9 36.0%
Livestock Safety 8 32.0%
Manure Handling and Storage 4 16.0%

Objective 3- Languages Other Than English

Part three of the questionnaire asked the respondents to list the agricultural health and safety needs of non-English speaking minorities in Utah and in what language(s) they felt agricultural health and safety information should be developed. The overwhelming response was Spanish (97%, n=34). Other responses included Navajo, Asian, and Portuguese.

Objective 4- Information Delivery Media / Formats

Part four of the questionnaire gathered data concerning the format and means of delivery of agricultural health and safety information. Respondents were asked to rank 11 different delivery formats, and additional spaces were provided for respondents to fill in their own choices. Based on a ranking of mean scores, videotapes was the most frequently highly ranked format, followed by fact sheets, safety demonstrations, safety checklists, and newsletters (Table 8).

Table 8.
Ranking of Desired Format for the Delivery of Agricultural Health and Safety Information

Format Mean Rank
Videotape 3.5926 1
Fact Sheets 3.8000 2
Safety Demonstrations 4.7500 3
Safety Checklists 5.0714 4
Health & Safety Newsletter 5.1034 5

Conclusions, Recommendations, and Implications

Survey results clearly indicate a need to develop agricultural health and safety materials that target Utah youth. Extension agents and administrators reported most important to youth in Utah are farm equipment, pesticides, tractors, all terrain vehicles (ATV), and livestock safety. However, they reported the topics that were least satisfactorily covered and perhaps in the greatest need of improvement were information on childproofing the farm, confined spaces, farm vehicle operation, zoonosis, and farm equipment safety.

The findings of this study are consistent with those of prior research conducted in Utah that concluded that there was a need for increased youth safety training (Egbert, 1993; Joerger, Ferguson, & Hendricks, 1999). This repeated finding should encourage safety educators to push for greater youth safety programming. Extension agents need programs and materials they can disseminate to youth. The development of safety information that targets youth should be among the first priorities for agricultural health and safety researchers and educators.

Survey results further suggest that adult needs are similar to those of youth; however, the areas most in need of improvement are different. Zoonosis, mental health, repetitive motion injury, livestock, and respiratory hazards top the list of topics that need improvement for adults. Most of the issues that Extension agents and administrators indicated need to be improved are chronic health issues. This suggests that these have become a problem over time for adults and should also be addressed, starting with youth audiences, acting proactively rather than reactively.

The needs of minority workers and their families were also a concern of the Extension agents and administrators. Most respondents reported agricultural health and safety information should be developed in Spanish for both youth and adults.

Regardless of the expressed need, safety materials will not be used if they are delivered in an unusable form. Griffin (1994) underscored the importance of providing information that is user friendly. He concluded that safety professionals sought information providers that were accessible and familiar, with 70% stating that they were more likely to use an information source with which they had had a positive previous experience. The results of this survey suggest that efforts should be made to develop and disseminate agricultural health and safety information using videotapes, fact sheets, safety demonstrations, and safety checklists.

This study serves as a valuable resource to agricultural safety and health educators who work in an era of reduced funding and limited time. Awareness of specific needs for information can aid educators in developing their budgets and plans of work. While Extension agents are a valuable source of information regarding agricultural safety and health needs, similar studies should be conducted with agriculturists, agricultural youth, and minority farm workers, and the results of such studies should be used to supplement agricultural safety and health educators curriculum. Although the data in this study were collected from Utah Extension educators and administrators, many items could be used by agents, farmers, ranchers, other educators, and agricultural business owners in other states.


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